Long considered a natural first stop on the way to Machu Picchu, Cusco is one of the most visited cities in Peru, practically mandatory for visitors. However, far too few visitors truly enjoy all that Cusco has to offer; with their sights set on Machu Picchu, they miss out on all this incredible city has to offer.
From enjoying waterfall hikes and mountain viewpoints to exploring historic monuments from Spanish colonial times and even earlier, there are truly endless things to do in Cusco.
This ultimate guide to the best things to do in Cusco covers all of the most famous attractions in Cusco you’ll love to see on your trip, as well as more off-the-beaten-path things to do in Cusco to see the city in a unique way.
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Things To Do in Cusco
Don’t fall into that (unfortunately common!) trap of thinking that Cusco is just a place to pass a few days and get acclimated to the altitude before heading to Machu Picchu. While you certainly should carve out some time to acclimate to the elevation of the Sacred Valley, there is so much more to do in Cusco.
Cusco is one of Peru’s most magnificent cities, and after traveling to nearly every country in South America, I’d say it’s one of the most fascinating cities I’ve visited. You’ll find fascinating layers of history here: the clear presence of the history of the Incas, Spanish colonization, and the modern city.
Looking to escape the city, too? Don’t worry – there are plenty of day trips from Cusco that are well worth adding to your Peru itinerary. You could easily spend a week just exploring the cities, villages, and historic sites around Cusco.
Whatever you’re looking for from this city, these are the best things to do in Cusco!
1. Enjoy a Spa Day
Whether you’re preparing for a day trip to Machu Picchu or returning from a multi-day trek in the mountains, treating yourself to a spa day and a massage is a great idea, and one of the most popular things to do in Cusco. It can take a lot out of a person to arrive in a city with such a high altitude, no matter how physically fit you are.
There are a lot of places in Cusco that offer massages – not all of them are the best – so head to ReEnergize Cusco for a quality experience in a relaxing environment with well-trained professionals.
For a luxury spa experience, head to Palacio del Inka, a historic 5-star hotel with the best spa in the city. They offer incredible massages and have saunas, Turkish baths, and a hydrotherapy pool.
Cusco also has a great selection of yoga centers and retreats if you want a more holistic healing experience. Check out Chakana Yoga Center for the area’s best yoga experience.
2. Visit Sacsayhuamán
Located on the hillside just above the city, Sacsayhuamán is one of the most fascinating sites of Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley. With its proximity, it’s easy to visit from the city without taking a tour – a taxi from the center of Cusco is just a few soles.
Plan on spending around two hours exploring the site – this is one of the best things to do in Cusco for a reason!
Sacsayhuamán is part of the destinations included in the Cusco Tourist Pass, so make sure you have yours before you arrive – it will save you money if you plan on visiting a few spots in the area.
Cusco Tourist Pass
You’ll need to purchase the Cusco Tourist Pass to visit almost any of these destinations – especially the sites with ruins! The Cusco Tourist Pass is an excellent deal and includes admissions to a variety of sites in and around Cusco over a number of days. Book your Cusco Tourist Pass in advance and start planning your trip!
3. Explore the San Blas Neighborhood
One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Cusco, San Blas is an excellent area to explore (and a great place to stay in Cusco!). San Blas has an unending array of cafes, restaurants, and shops among winding and historic streets.
Just a few blocks uphill from Plaza de Armas, it’s easy to get here from the rest of the historic center, so check out the area, even if you’re not staying here. Some of the most popular attractions and must-visit spots in San Blas include these:
Iglesia San Blas
A charming and historic church with a beautiful interior, and a stunning lookout point over the city. Whether you make it inside or just visit the historic plaza in front, visiting San Blas’ church is a must.
Artisan Galleries and Workshops
Hilario Medivil is Cusco’s most famous artisan, so a visit to his shop is a must. However, there are many other artisan workshops and galleries to discover as you explore the area as well.
This small restaurant is a secret gem in Cusco, with some of the most inventive and delicious food in the city, and at affordable prices. Come to Ethnika early enough in your trip to Cusco and you’ll likely be back a second time.
4. Marvel at the Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas in Cusco is an incredible and beautiful spot. In the heart of Cusco’s historic center, the plaza is surrounded by historic buildings like the ornate Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús and Cusco’s Cathedral.
In addition to taking in the plaza, make sure you head inside the Cathedral and explore this unique building, built on top of the remains of an important Incan shrine.
Inside, you’ll find an incredible painting featuring Jesus and the disciples sharing the last supper with a bit of a menu change – they’re sharing “cuy,” or guinea pig, a delicacy in the Andes.
5. Eat Like a Local at Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano
If you’re inspired by seeing Jesus and the disciples chowing down on guinea pig (“cuy”) in the Cusco Cathedral, head to Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano to try it yourself. This is a local spot specializing in guinea pig – nothing pretentious or touristy here; these are the best spots to each when traveling.
While I didn’t try guinea pig while traveling in Cusco, I tried it several times while living in Ecuador, and it’s actually quite delicious. Be warned; it’s often served whole, including head, claws, teeth, and all, so if this is too much for you, order something else.
6. Take a Day Trip to Ollantaytambo
Many travelers just pass through the small, historic town of Ollantaytambo on their way to catch the train to Machu Picchu, but Ollantaytambo has so much to offer visitors that you won’t want to miss.
With some of the most noteworthy Incan Ruins in the Sacred Valley, plenty of restaurants and cafes with delicious food, and historic Incan streets, Ollantaytambo is perfect for a day trip or overnight from Cusco.
Just over an hour and a half from Cusco, this fascinating town is easily accessible. While you’ll find the ruins of Ollantaytambo included on many Sacred Valley tour itineraries, try to spend more time here than that! Even if you can spend just one night in Ollantaytambo, you’ll love the opportunity to explore all the town has to offer.
Read More: Ollantaytambo, Peru: Ultimate Travel Guide
7. Sleep Over the Sacred Valley
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime stay in a hotel you’ll never forget, how about booking a stay at the Skylodge Adventure Suites? At this “lodge,” guests sleep in luxurious glass pods strapped to the mountainside, suspended over the Urubamba River Valley.
If you’re afraid of heights, this isn’t the experience for you, but if you’re feeling a little adventurous, this will be the stay of a lifetime.
8. Enjoy Peru’s Best Food at Monasterio
Monasterio is one of the nicest luxury hotels Cusco has to offer; housed in the historic San Antonio Abad Monastery and with a stunning Baroque chapel, it’s a historic destination in its own right.
Even if staying here isn’t in your travel budget, make a reservation at Monasterio’s restaurant, El Tupay, which regularly hosts live music, and has some of the best, most inventive Peruvian cuisine you’ll find in town.
9. Take a Break at Siete y Siete Cafe
Siete y Siete is a fantastic little cafe in Cusco with the most incredible, jaw-dropping view overlooking the city. You’ll want to spend hours enjoying their delicious coffee and pastries and just taking in the view, or posting pictures from your trip (the wifi is fast!). It’s the perfect place to spend a quiet morning.
10. Drink Coca Tea
Looking to experience an authentic part of local culture (that can do wonders for your health)? Try drinking coca tea – it’s one of the best things to do in Cusco, especially if you’re trying to acclimatize to the elevation in Cusco.
Coca tea is made from the leaves of the coca plant. While coca is more well known for being the plant from which cocaine is derived, it’s been used traditionally in the Andes for generations to assist will all kinds of ailments, but particularly to assist with the effects of altitude sickness.
I chugged this stuff when I first arrived to Cusco – it really works!
You’ll find coca tea everywhere you turn here, including in cafes, restaurants, and often offered at hotels for guests. Alternatively, buy a box of coca teabags or a bag of coca leaves from the Mercado San Pedro to make your own tea.
11. Visit the Pisac Ruins (and Market!)
Just under an hour from Cusco, the small town of Pisac has big-time attractions, drawing countless visitors passing through the Sacred Valley. Pisac is home to extensive Incan ruins – some of the best in the Sacred Valley! – as well as the famous Pisac Market, one of the best markets in Latin America.
Plan to spend several hours here exploring the ruins and the market – it makes for a perfect, easy day trip from Cusco. You can easily book a group excursion or private excursion, or travel here yourself by bus or taxi.
12. Take a Free Walking Tour
Start your time in Cusco with a free walking tour of the historical center of Cusco. This is a great introduction to the town with a local, and can be a great way to meet other travelers and get excellent recommendations for your time in Cusco.
Tours generally depart from the Plaza de Armas and explore the easily accessible and charming streets of the historic center of Cusco. I recommend taking advantage of these well-done tours as one of the first things to do in Cusco once you arrive. You’ll get a good lay of the land and get plenty of good local recommendations.
Booking online is easy, and you can drop off at any time if you want to spend more time at any particular attraction.
13. Explore the Mercado San Pedro
Visiting San Pedro Market is one of the best things to do in Cusco if you’re looking to get a better peek at local life and get a little bit off the beaten path. Here you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, and plenty of food stalls selling plentiful and inexpensive local food.
Looking to combine a culinary experience in Cusco with a trip to the market? Visit the market with a local chef then head to a group cooking class to learn how to make Peruvian food once you’re home from your trip.
14. Sip Drinks at the República del Pisco
República del Pisco is a Cusco institution known best for its Pisco sours, of course! This bar/restaurant has live music most nights of the week, which helps create a lively and upbeat atmosphere whenever you visit.
Get there early if you can, as it can get crowded, especially if you’re looking to stay for dinner. It’s not the most affordable spot in Cusco, but it’s definitely a Cusco institution. I still consider it one of the best things to do in Cusco, so make sure to check it out whether it’s your type of place or not.
15. Taste Your Way Through Cusco On A Food Tour
There’s no better way to explore a city than on a food tour – I always like to book one early in my time in a new place while traveling for the additional benefit of knowing exactly what I like off of local menus for the rest of my visit.
WithLocals offers a great Cusco food tour with 10+ delicious foods and drinks to sample in off-the-beaten-path spots around the historic center. You’ll find a couple of different Cusco food tours available, but I really loved this one and recommend it to everyone! It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Cusco as you get acquainted with this lovely city.
Read More: Where to Stay in Cusco, Peru
16. Meet the Mummies at Qorikancha
Located in the heart of Cusco, Qorikancha was an important Incan temple to the Sun, built in 1438 and considered the most important Incan religious site of the empire.
Before the Spanish arrived, Qorikancha was entirely coated in golden sheets. Spanish conquistadores sacked the temple and built the Monastery of Santo Domingo on top of the ruins in the 1500s.
Today, Qorikancha is a fascinating mix of Incan and Spanish architectural styles, and while it holds museum exhibits, is much more than just another museum to visit in Cusco. Make sure to check out the mummies and skulls in the basement rooms – the mummies of former Incan emperors were kept here and taken out and ceremonially offered food and drink, and dressed in ornate clothing, on a regular basis.
Qorikancha is part of the destinations included in the Cusco Tourist Pass, so make sure you have yours before you arrive – it will save you money if you plan on visiting a few spots in the area.
17. Hike to Lake Humantay
There are some INCREDIBLE day trips from Cusco to add to your itinerary, but in my opinion, Lake Humantay is one of the very best. This stunning aquamarine lake, with a towering, snow-capped mountain behind, looks too beautiful to be real.
Booking a small-group excursion is the most cost-effective way to travel here, as it’s quite remote. The hike from the parking area takes about an hour, but it’s uphill the whole way, but it isn’t hard, so come prepared!
If you’re hiking around Cusco, specifically using along the Salkantay Trek, you’ll likely get a chance to visit Lake Humantay on your trek, so no need to visit beforehand! If not, book your day trip – it’s one of the most impressive things to do in Cusco.
Read More: 10 Easy Day Trips from Cusco, Peru
18. Visit the ChocoMuseo
Cusco’s ChocoMuseo is dedicated to… you guessed it… all things chocolate. The free museum is a great place to learn more about how chocolate is grown and produced, and you’ll get to taste plenty of samples as you browse the museum and store.
You can also sign up for a bean-to-bar workshop at the ChocoMuseo where you’ll get to try your hand at making fresh chocolate. This is a great hands-on experience and, of course, includes plenty of taste testing. It goes without saying why this is one of the best things to do in Cusco!
19. Marvel at Original Incan Streets
You’ll see the remnants of the Incan foundation of Cusco everywhere you look, including in the walls that line the streets of the historic center. You can see some of the best examples of this along Calle Loreto, a street that runs off of the Plaza de Armas.
You’ll also want to check out the famous twelve-angled stone – this massive, multi-ton stone built into a wall along Calle Hatunrumiyoc has a shocking 12 sides, which will leave you wondering how the Incans did it.
Read More: 25+ Best Things To Do in Peru
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20. See the Treasures at the Inca Museum
Cusco’s Inca Museum (Museo Inka) holds an incredible collection of Incan treasures. Everything from skulls to pottery, jewelry, textiles, and religious figurines is displayed here.
The museum is housed in a beautiful, historic building, and you can see live weaving demonstrations by local indigenous artisans in the courtyard.
Machu Picchu Packing List
Don’t prepare for your trip without reading our ultimate Machu Picchu Packing List. We’ve listed everything you’ll need for the day of, and the rest of your Peru trip.
21. Visit Cusco’s Artisan Market
If you’re looking for a place to buy something to bring home with you, Cusco’s artisan market is the place to go! Located just around the corner from the Plaza de Armas, the Centro Artesanal has a huge array of textiles, souvenirs, clothing, jewelry, and more. Visiting the market is one of the best things to do in Cusco even if you don’t think you’ll buy anything.
While the artisan market in Cusco is definitely oriented towards travelers, but it has a great selection and is a great place for shopping, especially if you’re not able to visit the market in Pisac. Some of the best things to get include textiles, blankets, sweaters, and home decor.
22. Take in the View from the San Cristobal Viewpoint
Cusco is a city of beautiful views; located in a valley and surrounded by mountains, you’ll find stunning views wherever you turn. One of the city’s best views is from the viewpoint of San Cristobal Church – expect unmatched views of the mountains, historic streets, and Plaza de Armas.
While you’ll get great views from the plaza in front of the church, make sure to enter the church and climb the bell tower (for just a few soles). You can reach San Cristobal on foot from Plaza de Armas, though if walking uphill in this altitude is still too much for you, take a taxi for just a few soles up the hill instead.
23. Take a Day Trip to Rainbow Mountain
In just a few short years since the discovery of the Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain, this colorful destination has become one of Peru’s most-visited attractions. Many travelers consider it among the best things to do in Cusco!
Previously hidden by year-round snow and ice, warming temperatures revealed this spot in 2013, and now Rainbow Mountain is one of the most popular day trips from Cusco.
Book a day trip to Rainbow Mountain – you can’t easily visit on your own without your own vehicle – and get ready for a long day! Excursions usually depart from Cusco between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM to make the 3-hour journey. However, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning and unique perspective of this beautiful, other-worldly site that defies logic.
While the mountain gets quite crowded, especially during the busy summer travel season, you can also consider visiting Palcoyo – it has very similar colorful mountains without crowds. The Ausangate Trek even visits this region, a less common but no less impressive way to enjoy one of the best things to do in Cusco.
24. Shop at Awamaki
Awamaki is a small non-profit with years of history operating in the Sacred Valley. Their shop selling artisan products might be small, but visiting is one of the best things to do in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Nestled in the small town of Ollantaytambo, the Awamaki shop is easily accessible for most travelers visiting the Sacred Valley and Cusco, just a few blocks from the train to Machu Picchu.
You’ll find handmade products like textiles, purses, clothing, home decor, and much more – it’s the perfect place to shop for something special to take home that you know will leave the local community a little better in the process.
Looking for things to do in Cusco that are sustainable and ethical? Awamaki is also one of the best ethical tourism operators in the area. They offer rural tourism experiences that include visits to weaving cooperatives and overnights with local families, though the experiences can be tailored to your specific interests.
25. Take a Cooking Class
There’s no better way to take a bit of Cusco home with you than to take a cooking class in Cusco! Not only will it give you the skills and knowledge to take a delicious part of your trip home with you, but you’ll get to connect with locals and other travelers and learn so much about Peruvian cuisine in the process.
If you’re in Ollantaytambo, Awamaki also offers a special Awamaki cooking class, which is one of the best you can try in Peru. It supports their sustainable and ethical tourism initiatives and is an unforgettable hands-on experience.
26. Visit Choquequirao
Considered by visitors and locals alike to be similar to Machu Picchu, the ruins of Choquequirao are one of the most interesting ruins in the region. If you’re looking for an adventurous addition to your Peru itinerary, they are certainly worth an addition to your itinerary.
Visiting Choqeuquirao couldn’t be more different from visiting Machu Picchu. Choquequirao is currently only accessible via a four-day round trip trek, meaning it usually sees just 15-20 intrepid explorers visiting the site daily, as opposed to Machu Picchu’s thousands.
Choquequirao isn’t located in the Sacred Valley like many of Peru’s most famous ruins, but it isn’t far from Cusco – just over three hours, making it a great addition to your itinerary. Located high above the Apurimac River, Choquequirao is accessible via the small town of Cachora.
While the standard four-day trek just visiting the Choquequriao, there are alternative trail spurs that take visitors to other ruins, including even Machu Picchu. The trek doesn’t require a guide, though one is highly recommended, especially if you’re looking to deviate from the standard four-day itinerary.
Read More: Choquequirao, Peru: Ultimate Trekker’s Guide
27. Stay at Palacio Manco Capac
There are plenty of incredible places to stay in Cusco, even historic destinations that bring you closer to Cusco’s history, but none is unique as Palacio Manco Capac.
This boutique hotel is built among the historic ruins of the palace of the first ruler of the Incas, the legendary Manco Capac. Over the site’s thousand-year history, it also saw the construction of Casona Republicana by Spanish conquistadores, which is also now a part of this stately hotel.
To walk among history at Palacio Manco Capac, exploring lush gardens that are home to stone structures hand-cut by Incans, is an incomparable treat. With just 20 rooms, the service at Palacio Manco Capac is personalized and exquisite. Even when the hotel is at capacity, you’ll feel like you have a slice of Cusco’s incredible history all to yourself.
Just four blocks away from Plaza de Armas, there’s no better location from which to explore all the best things to do in Cusco. You’ll love coming “home” at the end of the day to be embraced by the luxury and history of this one-of-a-kind hotel.
28. Embark on the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is one of the world’s great treks for a reason! The Inca Trail is the highlight of many travelers’ trips to Peru. The standard route of the Inca Trail last four days and takes you along sections of the old Inca roads, around little-visited ruins, and past jaw-droppingly beautiful mountain and valley vistas.
While you’ll find travel agencies in Cusco advertising Inca Trail treks, it’s generally necessary to book your trek in advance. Book as far in advance as you can – you really want to go with a reliable tour company, and these can sell out quickly.
This is especially true if you’re traveling during the high season of travel, from May through September, when Machu Picchu tickets sell out quickly. Similarly, access to the Inca Trail is limited to a certain number of trekking permits per day.
The Inca trail generally departs from Ollantaytambo, just a 1.5-hour bus or taxi ride from Cusco. If your itinerary allows for it, make sure to explore this charming town as well. Gorgeous ruins, old town streets, and cool cafes and shops make this one of the charming spots in the Sacred Valley.
29. Eat at Greenpoint Cusco
Looking for one of our favorite places to eat in Cusco? It has to be Greenpoint Cusco. This incredible vegetarian restaurant is one of Cusco’s best, though its casual atmosphere and affordable menu make it one that even backpackers should add to their Cusco itinerary.
Everything from burritos to noodles and stir-fry are favorites off the menu here, which includes a perfect mix of local and international dishes to try. The patio is absolutely lovely, making enjoying a meal at Greenpoint one of the best things to do in Cusco.
30. Explore the Ruins of Tambomachay
If you’re not exhausted by visiting ruins throughout the Sacred Valley during your time in Cusco, the ruins of Tambomachay can be a great addition to your time in Cusco. Located just five miles from the center of Cusco, Tambomachay is one of the most easily accessible ruins from town and is a favorite on Cusco ruins tours.
Many travelers skip Tambomachay for the more well-known ruins of Sacsayhuaman. This is a mistake! While just as easily accessible and impressive as Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachacy often receives just a fraction of the visitors, meaning you’ll enjoy them with far fewer tourists obstructing your view.
Tambomachay is included on the Cusco Tourist Pass, so make sure you purchase your pass online before heading out for your visit.
Best Things To Do in Cusco
Whether you love Cusco’s Incan ruins or you’re just “ruined” out after a visit to Machu Picchu, there is an incredible array of things to do in Cusco to fill your itinerary. From favorite Cusco day trips to Ollantaytambo and Pisac to exploring the rest of the Sacred Valley, these are just a few of the best things to do in Cusco – what will you enjoy on your trip?
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.